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  1. #1
    Author of 101 WWE Matches To See Before You Die Samuel 'Plan's Avatar
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    Film. Just Film: The Fourth Order - A New Way to Watch Star Wars (Pt. 2)




    It was some time ago that I sat down and wrote an introduction to a series of columns I have wanted to write for a long time, but never have, and never did. You can read that piece here: http://lordsofpain.tv/showthread.php...ar-Wars-(Pt-1)

    It was to be the first in regular columns about my perspectives on movies. I love cinema almost as much as I love wrestling after all, and given how intrinsic Star Wars is to my cinema-loving DNA it felt only sensible to start with my burning passion for the franchise and my ardently held belief about the most effective, most fun order to watch all the Wars movies in – be they of the now-named 'Skywalker Saga' or not.

    For whatever reason, I never got around to writing the follow-up columns to that introduction I posted. I'm back here, now, to do just that.

    In a nutshell, the situation is thus.

    I have been a big fan of the Official Machete Order of watching the Skywalker Saga for a long-time. It's the order that places the Prequels in the middle of the Originals, treats The Empire Strikes Back as a cliffhanger and cuts The Phantom Menace out entirely. When Disney then bought the rights to the franchise and began releasing the Sequel Trilogy, alongside the newly minted Star Wars Story movies, I contemplated how they too could be spliced into the Official Machete Order.

    While the Order's original creator claims they're best watched apart from or after the conclusion of Return of the Jedi, I feel differently. It is my belief that, with the expansion of the franchise, there has been an expansion of the story, taking it from a linear tale of a single family to a galaxy-spanning opera composed of a myriad of interwoven character arcs and, as a result, a new order of watching the films together presented itself. I named it in my previous Introduction 'The Fourth Order' and today I begin the process of extrapolating what it is that makes this particular order so magical and exhilarating to watch.

    Lesson 1: The Fourth Order doesn't begin with Episode I or Episode IV. The Fourth Order begins with Star Wars: Episode VII: The Force Awakens.


    MYSTERY


    Star Wars isn't so much science fiction as it is science fantasy, and one of the key ingredients that helped to make the Originals so successful was the inherent sense of mystery that sat at the heart of the story. Obi-Wan Kenobi's wistful recollections of the Jedi Order and vague explanations of the Force and how it functioned – specifically when coupled with the pragmatic doubts of surrounding characters – allowed the story to tap into an air of magic and the beautifully inexplicable.

    What if I said Awakens pulls that same trick, but does it better when watched as the first chapter of this sprawling story?

    Mystery is at the heart of Awakens, if anything, more than it is at the heart of Star Wars: Episode IV: A New Hope. On the literal level, mysteries such as Rey's parentage, Supreme Leader Snoke's identity, Luke Skywalker's location and the fractured past of the separated Solo family drive both plot and character development. There are no such comparable threads laid out in Hope, which by all accounts if a much more self-contained story. As an introduction to the Saga, then, Awakens replaces the straight forward, closed-ended and purposeful narrative of Hope with the seeds of larger events. Hope tells an exciting story to kick the Saga off; Awakens, though, seeks instead to patiently begin world-building.

    It does this not just through the cliffhanging nature of its plot threads and foundations of character, but also through the way it introduces us to the key elements of the Star Wars universe itself.

    Whether it's the noted history of the Millennium Falcon, the fun hints to Han Solo's past or the darker ones behind the nature of the Stormtrooper programme, Awakens is a story pulsing with mystique and constantly hinting at a larger world; one that, like Luke on the deck of the Falcon in Hope, you feel yourself ready to take your first steps into once Awakens concludes.

    The most important aspect of this is also the central facet of the film itself: the Force, the Jedi and the 'legend' of Luke Skywalker.

    Watching Awakens as the first film in the Saga lends fresh importance to the relatively short scene on the Falcon in which BB-8 reveal his portion of the map to Skywalker, prompting Solo to recount adventures that, in this Fourth Order of viewing, we yet have no knowledge of. All we know is that everything Rey and Finn have thought of as legend was, in fact, real, and Solo saw it all. What is, in any other viewing order, a mechanical scene with a purpose transforms into a pivotal, electrifying moment that deepens the central mystery of the Saga by revealing it's no mystery at all: it's history. And like the wide-eyed Rey, we want to know more.

    As an introduction to the Force and the Jedi, Awakens is much more ambiguous than Hope. So much so, it threatens to make Hope feel horribly heavy-handed! Where Hope had Kenobi on hand to explain the basic function of the Force at every opportunity, in Awakens Rey isn't as lucky as Luke. She has to learn to tap into her latent abilities by her own volition, and under harrowing circumstances, and even as she does so we are left wondering what's happening, what Rey's actions mean – for her, and for the wider fight of the Resistance against the First Order. We aren't told the Force has a strong influence on the weak minded, we are only shown it and left to question the nature of what we've been shown. The drama only then heightens further when, during her climactic duel with Kylo Ren, she claims victory only by consciously tapping into this Force, this inexplicable mystery at the heart of what is clear will become Rey's journey. Amazingly, it is one of many scenes the Saga houses wherein a character is tempted to the other side, but perhaps the only one in which we aren't even conscious that's what we're seeing.

    It's a moment that demonstrates the confidence of the storytelling in Awakens, which transcends the sometimes inadequate talents of original creator George Lucas. The Force is never explicitly explained in Awakens, at all, by anyone. The storytelling is all visual, all show and don't tell. We see the Force work, we see characters work it, but we never know exactly what it is – and by extension, who or what the Jedi were either, including Skywalker.

    In this manner, not only does Awakens retain the important need for mystery to be at the heart of the introduction to the story of this Saga, it actively augments it over and above Hope, in my mind making it the preferable first instalment. It is an argument that only gets punctuated in the movie's closing moments.

    The true success of watching Awakens as the first film in this new viewing order is the manner in which it transforms the race to find Skywalker, from being a necessary motivation that the second half of the film forgets to becoming a fight to uncover truth and meaning for all characters involved on both sides of the fight between Resistance and First Order. Rey's powers, Kylo's past, the Resistance's plight – it all feels wrapped up in the identity and history of Skywalker himself. Not just because he is a powerful Jedi, as a traditional reading of Awakens would have it, but because his story in itself contains keys to understanding the meaning of the events throughout Awakens and those yet to come in its direct sequels. It is from this angle we can already see the nature of Star Wars changing from the story of one family to the story of an entire galaxy.

    The final moment, then, as Rey and Luke gaze at one another across that grassy knoll on Ahch-To, is not just a cliffhanger, but a door opening to the past of the world they both inhabit and a Saga of movies we're about to enjoy as answers swarm at us, wrapped in the leviathan events of the Saga's own past. And frankly, it's far more enthralling than watching some blokes get handed a medal!

    FAMILY MATTERS


    The Fourth Order is not perfect when it comes to retaining the integrity of some of the Saga's original plot threads, and does threaten first viewers with some awkward questions. But if it is approached with a desire to embrace ambiguity and the magic of slow-burn storytelling then it shouldn't pose an insurmountable issue. I state this because we do, of course, have to deal with the most important plot thread of the entire Saga: the Skywalker family lineage.

    Awakens, as the first chapter of the Saga, sets up a number of important plot threads that will play out over the following films but the most important of these is Kylo Ren's identity, in both literal and figurative terms.

    Seeing the fight between Kylo's light and dark sides will pay dividends later on in the Fourth Order, both directly and indirectly, and I will cover that then, but for now suffice to say that the twist of his killing Han Solo will pack as powerful a punch as it ever could – as this movie is now the introduction to the franchise, it is Kylo's patricide that offers us our first real glimpse into the high stakes family drama that will come to punctuate the entire Saga. Certainly there is no precedent at this stage in the story fpr such a horrifying turn of events, making the moment all the more harrowing and affecting; far more so, I dare say, than its obvious Hope comparison, the confusing death of Kenobi. In fact, it is the distinct clarity of the sudden tonal shift in the scene on the bridge that lets us know the Saga isn't all fun and games – that people we care about can and will die, that these events matter that way.

    It's a far more tangible presentation of the cost of loss, and will serve to augment events later down the line. Considering what is to come, I cannot emphasise this enough.

    Then there is Kylo's seeming link to Darth Vader.

    Remember this is now our introduction to the universe, and not knowing who Darth Vader is at this stage throws up an interesting new lens through which to view the tale. All we see is a mauled, melted helmet in Kylo's quarters and a number of villainous characters talking about this looming figure of legend – an apparent Dark Side equivalent to the myth of Luke Skywalker no less – with weighty reverence. At this stage, we can be certain of only two things: that Darth Vader was an epitome of evil (he had to be, to be revered so mightily by the First Order), and that he was, by some relation, Kylo Ren's grandfather. Vitally, Awakens never provides evidence as to whether that is through Kylo's paternal or maternal family tree – only that Solo is his father, General Leia his mother.

    Why vitally? Vitally, because it means there is never any clarification of a familial link existing between Kylo Ren, Darth Vader and, of course, Luke Skywalker. Remember that.

    For her part, Rey's own family past is harder to reassess, mainly because this is being written before we can confidently claim the issue has been resolved narratively. It may be that the incoming conclusion to the Saga this December offers up further information on the back of the revelations we received in Star Wars: Episode VIII: The Last Jedi. What we can say, however, that showing Rey's longing for belonging, showing her confusion over her place in the universe and her burning desire to stay on Jakku in the event someone comes looking for her sets up nicely a powerful and compelling parallel to what we will soon see from the young Luke Skywalker living with his aunt and uncle on Tatooine. But more on that in a later column.

    CLOSING NOTES


    Honestly, I could write all day long just about how watching Awakens as the first film in the Saga improves the Saga immensely, there are that many small moments impacted by the rearrangement, but I'll purposefully cut myself short. Before signing off, however, I will say that watching Awakens as the new first Episode proves to benefit the movie itself as much as it does the wider Saga, in more ways than one.

    Watching Episode VII as the seventh episode only serves to highlight many of the film's issues, the primary one being its unavoidable similarities to Hope. Those similarities were always going to be what the audience of the film latched onto as their frame of interpretation. As such, Awakens developed a reputation among many fans as either a soft reboot or a timid rehash, depending on the harshness of the critic. It did not, however, allow for a full appreciation of what Awakens did differently, much of which this column has already tried to highlight.

    Recasting Episode VII as the first episode frees it from these chains of comparison to Episode IV. Everything about the plot becomes less distracting. You aren't thinking about how the map to Skywalker is a stand-in for the Death Star schematics, or how BB-8 meeting Rey is a repeat of the droids meeting Luke, or how the jarring and sudden introduction of Starkiller Base watches as an excuse to just revisit the Battle of Yavin, or how Maz's is basically a lesser version of the Mos Eisley Cantina. And, when freed from these distracting similarities, what instead comes to the fore is the high stakes personal drama set against a backdrop of vast intergalactic events sweeping up our characters and changing them in ways they could never expect, as the concepts of Awakens are finally allowed to stand on their own two feet, unbeholden to the toxic nostalgia that has riddled the Star Wars fan base since 1999.

    The effect is quite something, and reveals the truth that watching Episode VII as the seventh episode tends to hide: Awakens is one of the best entries in the franchise, and, specifically as an introduction to the universe and story of Star Wars, infinitely superior to Hope.

    Speaking of which, I'll be back in the next instalment of Film. Just Film when I will continue my look at the Fourth Order of watching Star Wars by examining both Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and Star Wars: Episode IV: A New Hope!

    But until then, do be sure to sound off with any thoughts and feelings in the comments below!

  2. #2
    Member #25 SirSam's Avatar
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    I had not thought of Force Awakens as a kicking off point for Star Wars until you mentioned it to me a years or so ago and immediately I couldn't help but see how beneficial the biggest thing it does is: create a sense of wonder and mythology around the force and the events of the OT & prequels. That scene of Han saying 'its all true' is as wondrous and beautiful as the Obi-Wan and Yoda scenes. Even just the opening shoes on Jakku of the fallen AT-ATs show a hidden grand past.

    Somehow it also manages to preserve a lot of the twists too which means that any downside from picking a later film is cut down too.

    I'm keen to see this series keep going, especially to the prequels because I k ow you have some strong takes on them.

  3. #3
    Administrator Prime Time's Avatar
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    Good stuff 'Plan. Though the last time I tried to watch them all through I was about 21, there were only six films, and I didn't even make it through then. So as I said to Sam on Twitter, there are just too many for me to ever try to attempt watching them 'in order' - any order - nowadays. I can potentially see myself doing my old double bill of Empire/Jedi, but even that feels like a stretch given various time pressures.



    Keep at it, my friend.

    "The worst moron is the one too stupid to realise they're a moron."

  4. #4
    Author of 101 WWE Matches To See Before You Die Samuel 'Plan's Avatar
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    SirSam ~ Thanks man! I definitely intend to take it to the finish line this time, hoping to get the next one done over the weekend maybe. Depends on whether I get the right time to do it! The plot twist point you make will come up a few times again as I go along too so keep your eyes on that one! Oh, I also recently saw your second post on the first article about this from months back, and you mentioned a friend referring to Episode I as Palpatine: A Star Wars Story. I really, really like that! At first I didn't know if it fit, if Palps was prominent enough in the film - before I recalled that, of course, he's the bloody Phantom Menace! Haha. So maybe it's better watched after the Saga the day after, rather than before on the day before?

    Prime Time ~ Thanks man. Not surprised you don't have the time! To be fair, I shouldn't either and it only comes from a flagrant disregard of my adult responsibilities that I take a day to do it! Haha. I only do it every other year though, because otherwise I think it'd wear thin even for me. Although for what it's worth, I'd sooner recommend a Rogue One/New Hope double bill now, over an Empire/Jedi one. Also, it may have been on Twitter you mentioned about where Solo: A Star Wars Story might fit in? The answer is it doesn't. I just ignore it. Its narrative doesn't fit into any grander scheme, it lifts right out and, while it's fun, it is just a pretty straight-forward Saturday afternoon adventure yarn. To others, I'd say watch it either side of the marathon, but generally it's not worth bothering too much about. I wouldn't even try with the various TV shows either. I see them as a separate thing. I built this order mainly to account for the main Skywalker Saga as it's now referred to, and only include Rogue One because, thematically, it fits so nicely - as I'll write about in the next column!

  5. #5
    Administrator Prime Time's Avatar
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    I don't think it was me that asked about Solo, unless I'm getting even more forgetful than I already think I am?!

    "The worst moron is the one too stupid to realise they're a moron."

  6. #6
    Author of 101 WWE Matches To See Before You Die Samuel 'Plan's Avatar
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    Oh. Are you certain?! Maybe I'm losing my mind then! Pretend I said it to an empty room - which I pretty much did anyway!

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